Embracing the “Now” Instead of the “Next”

I would so enjoy the moment right now if it weren’t for that next glittery thing just beyond my reach.  The now is filled with the mundane, the commonplace, the grit of reality.  Laundry.  Doctor’s appointments.  Weight to lose.  A soul dream not fully realized.  The “next” holds promise of magic, adventure, a more-in-shape self and my dream job of writing and speaking as an actual career.

Maybe the idea of writing gives you trauma flashbacks to highschool research papers….but I’m sure you have a “next” too. Graduating college…completing a marathon…getting married…owning a business maybe?

This past weekend I tasted and sampled a full buffet of the joy and hope of my future dream while attending reNEW, a Christian conference and retreat for writers and speakers.  My heart soared with each story by dynamic keynote speakers.  I filled pages of notes with my feverish, sloppy hand-writing, soaking in each morsel of wisdom from seasoned workshop leaders.  I over-indulged in coffee and my mind practically popped as I sat to enhance and add fresh thoughts to my latest book.

(Photo Credit: Marla Darius)

Just picture me running free through a field of wheat and poppies and there’s probably a pony somewhere in there too.  (With a classy brick Starbucks building faintly visible in the distance.)

I was swimming all weekend in the potential of my “next” things.

And now I’ve swum right back home.  And I’m breathing in the now again.  And it’s actually a wonderful now, but it doesn’t smell deliciously like fresh ink.  It doesn’t feel like the electricity of speaking out a passionate message.  At least not always.  It feels a bit more tame and the smell is often that vague “not-quite-clean” smell that infuses most houses with small children.  I don’t know if it’s the shoes or the couch or the always suspicious bathroom.

As I pondered all the places I’d like to be this weekend, I sat down to let God show me what’s right in front of me.  Not later.  But now.  And do you know, the more I thought, the more I realized that my now is actually precious.  It’s a brimming full now.  It’s a weighty now, with gifts to invest, children to plant seeds in and create safe haven for, and breathtaking opportunities to serve.  Right. Now.

As I was praying with the wonderful community of women (plus a few brave men!) this morning, I had this beautiful picture that I can only attribute to God.

I pictured a girl on a path of large square stones weaving through a peaceful nature scene.  Like a childhood game of Candyland (minus the bright colors and edible characters), I knew the path meandered and ultimately lead to an important destination.  But the stone path was barely visible- in fact, only three or so steps were illuminated at all.  The rest were veiled in murky shadow and mysterious darkness.

But the girl was untroubled by what she didn’t see, couldn’t know.  In fact, she was completely oblivious to the fact that she could only see one square ahead because she was too busy chasing a butterfly.  That whimsical delicate creature so enthralled her that she seemed oblivious to anything beyond her now.  There was such a sense of peace washing over the whole scene.

I imagined myself on that same path with jarringly different emotions.  I was right up on the edge of the dark, straining to see, stressed and panicked over what I didn’t know how to get to.  Over the fact that the “next” thing wasn’t visible for me yet.  Never did I stop to consider the beauty of the now.  Unwilling to embrace those few bright steps as the very “next” I’d once strained to see, I couldn’t enjoy anything for the fear and discontent.

All the while the girl was dancing in her moment.  Unafraid.  Intoxicated with her now.

That’s who I want to be.  That’s who I believe you want to be.  Right there taking full advantage of the few steps right in front of us.  Embracing exactly what we have.  Not ignoring the path- occasionally standing on tip-toes to glimpse just enough future to keep blazing the trail.  But neither straining for what I don’t have yet, nor fearful of never making it.  Because my moment is too precious and dripping with purpose.  And when I embrace that, I find my partially lit path is actually peaceful.


What about you?  How are you learning to walk in your own purpose in the moment and live. now. instead of constantly chasing your “next”?  I invite you to share you thoughts and chew on some of these Bible passages to encourage you to trust in God and rest in the fullness of what you have today.

Psalm 131
A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 23:1-3 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.

Isaiah 42:16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them.

Proverbs 3:5-65 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

One of the Afflicted (Friend Post Friday #7)

Well, I am technically a week late, but have no fear, September’s Friend Post Friday is here!  I’m eager to introduce you to Annie Bartosiak, someone I’ve just met within the past year but have already learned so much from.  She grew up in Killingworth, CT and if she’s not enjoying a hike you might find her quietly people watching.  She has a passion for traveling, and recently returned from a lengthy trip that included Australia, Thailand, and Europe!  If you get the privilege of talking over coffee with Annie, you’ll find that she is a beautiful mix of bold and humble.  She wears her passions on her sleeve, is constantly exploring books and subjects that stretch her, and listens well to the perspective of others (a difficult trait to find!)  I may be a little biased because she washed my dishes for me, but I believe Annie has a needed perspective that flows out of the introspective journey of her travels and beyond.  I hope her wisdom touches you!


“One of the Afflicted”

by Annie Bartosiak

After having travelled extensively earlier this year, I returned home with an increased sense of awareness and curiosity which has driven me to question certain situations I am now encountering in my daily life.
I am allowing myself time and space to observe, feel and reflect (a process I believe many people in today’s society are too rushed, self-absorbed, detached or perhaps apprehensive to engage in) in order to try and figure out how I can live my best life possible.
Through my reflections, I stumbled upon two different yet interrelated themes which seem to explain much of the chaos afflicting us internally, which has rooted itself in how we perceive and conduct ourselves as a whole in society.
The first is the belief in redemption. Nowadays, when many individuals do not have a religious affiliation, or if one does, is not fully committed to the scale of belief/devotion that true following entails, it leaves one in a very murky state of mind and vulnerable state of being. Our insecurity, as a result of unbelief, leaves us unfilled, constantly participating in distracting or destructive behavior. I am not saying one is not allowed to have doubts; rather, today one is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choice when it is no longer predicated on fundamental principles or beliefs. It begs the question, “What would my life look like if I lived out my true beliefs?”
There are times when I feel consumed by hopelessness. It has taken me awhile to figure out that not only are outside influences affecting me (the world is so big and has so many issues that I know I cannot fix myself), but internally I am not actually following and practicing my beliefs to the fullest extent. To give a small example, I am an advocate for eco-friendly practices. I strive for zero waste overall. I like to bring a reusable cup with me for coffee (or a mason jar if I know I’ll be getting a juice or smoothie). If I have forgotten to plan ahead and there are not in house reusable choices, I will opt out of getting something. I know this might sound a little silly and extreme, but I would not be able to enjoy the indulgence if there is waste attached which the environment would suffer for as a result. It makes me sad to be in a disposable culture where most people don’t even think of the effects of their choices. But I will not hold it against them. I just choose a different path for myself-I have the power to live out my personal choice/belief and also to not judge another for his/her own.
Lack of absolution leaves our society and oneself spinning in circles. We become susceptible to misguided (in extreme cases, perverted) thoughts. Today, we are seeing contention engulf groups of individuals concerning issues we believed we had already fought and won as a larger society.
I am also not saying we all have to share the same beliefs, merely, that our collective beliefs need to be united in striving to support and sustain everyone’s wellbeing. I want to be able to lift you up and be lifted in return. This line of thought leads me to my second theme: the discipline of restraint.
You give to others what you receive from them. Giving kindness in return for kindness is easy. It is also easy to fall into negativity and offense when it is shown to us or it is what we constantly encounter in our everyday lives. We need to endeavor to rise above and give kindness to all, especially to those who seem incapable of reciprocating.
For instance, I was recently at the supermarket buying a few groceries when I encountered such a situation. I chose the self checkout lane since I reasoned I could go at my own pace which might even be quicker than the regular line. There were a couple people standing in each line so I waited behind an older woman who only had the similar few items in her cart. It took me a minute or two to realize that the associate was helping another woman ahead of both of us scan a full stack of coupons into the system. I knew it might take a little longer, but I decided to sit back and relax and just let my mind wander. Others were not at the same leisure. Suddenly the woman in front of me spoke up abruptly (shouting the distance of 3 cart lengths to the associate in front of her), “Do you think you will be done anytime soon?” Her tone was not pleasant, with a note of irritation one can normally brush off in public. The associate responded, “I’m sorry. I’m not sure.” The woman continued, insistent, “Well how long do you think you’ll take?” The associate held up the stack of coupons to show her the extent of his task, shrugged and said, “I don’t really know-a couple of minutes or more probably.” Now there was a woman with a cart full of groceries and children in the line next to us. She said to the woman, “You can go ahead of me. That’s no way to talk to someone.” This remark diverted the woman’s attention and irritation towards the other and she replied, “You have to right to say that to me.” And the other responded, “Well you really shouldn’t talk to someone like that. Now, I’m telling you, you can go ahead of me.” (And I’m pretty certain she gestured ahead of her own cart to the scanner that was now unoccupied.) The older woman quipped, “I don’t want to go in front of you.” And truth be told, that is the moment I walked off shaking my head. Being in the midst of negative emotions really affect me a lot, but even after I went to another line, paid for the items and left, I could not stop thinking about the entire situation. We (I’m generalizing the American population) no longer practice patience or understand the power of silence. I have noticed time and again how many have become preachers. A preaching moment causes tension and resistance, whereas, a teaching moment can be silent and impactful. I’m not saying that there is necessarily a right and wrong side to this scenario, just that negativity feeds into negativity. I don’t believe anyone in the vicinity of that exchange left feeling happy or comfortable. At the heart of this problem are grace and humility. In today’s society we indulge ourselves in many superficial and afflictive thoughts, behaviors and emotions. Most of the time we are in our own heads and worlds it doesn’t even occur to us to extend our thoughts and feelings towards others, strangers primarily, to empathize and try to build a positive from the situation. These caustic practices isolate us as well as blind us to the beauty and the power of love and happiness.
Separation supports an unhealthy view of oneself and the world. We, as a whole, feel undeserving, yet incapable of rectifying this attitude. We need reassurance from others. But usually block this need with a wall of contentious superiority. By investing in personal restraint of egotism (restrictive tendencies we sustain that are perceived to be self-fulfilling), we would consciously be opening ourselves up to the support of others. These are the parallels of the afflicted. Freely give to others while practicing restraint within oneself.
We are all broken individuals. Yet we resist this truth. But together we have power. It is time to have faith and reach across the chasm dividing us all, hoping others will reciprocate. If we cannot depose our self-perpetuating actions, if we cannot forgive, we cannot abound.


If you have something to add to the conversation, please join in by commenting!  And if you’re interested in being a “Friend Post Friday” writer, feel free to contact me!  I’m currently looking for writers for December 2017 and January/February 2018!

This is Not My Country

I’m proud of my Home Country.  But it’s not the one you’re thinking of.

My Home isn’t subject to geographical boundary lines.

It doesn’t belong to one race or culture, but encompasses all.

It doesn’t diminish or even elevate some individuals over others- it is ruled by the equalizer of grace.

It doesn’t advance through violent force, but expands like a garden plant, quietly pushing through the existing realm of authority with beautiful fruit.

It is lead by the weak, the poor, the broken.

It can exist within any government, yet isn’t subject to any other authority.

Even in the midst of suffering or persecution, you can find peace and hope in its midst.

Its people aren’t held against their will by brute force or legislation, but are drawn of their own free will by sacrificial love.

It can’t die out- ever-because nothing can shake it or shut it down.

It’s people can never lose their citizenship because unlike any other earthly affiliation, My Home Country is a Kingdom that outlasts even death.

Its goal isn’t to conquer and subdue, but to liberate and renew.

It doesn’t pursue homogeneity but diversity.

It isn’t spread through flags, ships, or dominance, but through the Spirit that is gloriously unbound by such restraints.

You may have guessed…my Home Country…it’s the Kingdom of Heaven.

But trust me it isn’t just a happy pie-in-the-sky place for later.  It’s here. It’s now.  It’s real.

And even though the kingdoms and countries around us may be falling apart, dividing, stirring up fear, and leaving us questioning what we stand for- this Kingdom gives me hope because it is outside all of that.   It is spiritual, yes, but it has the powerful capacity to create change even within these broken political systems, places, and circumstances we find ourselves in.

And while I may struggle with national pride or pride in my governing leaders, I can tell you I’ll never lose my allegiance to this Kingdom.  I’ll never regret this Kingdom- never be embarrassed by the God who rules it- never cease to be proud of what it stands for: a freedom and justice that goes beyond anything we’ve ever witnessed in this physical world.  I’ll never wake up and wonder whether this Kingdom is good for me and those around me.  I’ll never need to be afraid here even if there’s plenty around me that gives reason to fear.  My Kingdom is stronger and my God is bigger.

And that is the hope I’m standing in today.

Luke 17:20-21
Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed,  nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

Matthew 5:3-3 
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Mark 4:30-32 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?  It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.  Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

Matthew 6:9-10
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.

Revelation 7:9

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

1 Peter 1:3-5 3 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,  who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

All Scripture references taken from NIV version:New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 


These thoughts flow partially out of reading a blog post where Roger Martin posed the question, “Can we ever love our country too much?”  I encourage you to read his provocative post because I think he’s onto something.  And please share your thoughts about your own hope when this world seems so broken.  Is there anything that you place unflinching pride in?

 

 

 

DIY Moana Kakamora Coconut Bra

Nothing fixes a Monday better than some Disney Moana themed coconut bra humor.

In pursuit of the perfect mix of coconut goodies for someone’s birthday present, my friend and I thought that a Kakamora coconut bra was just what we needed.  We were shocked that it wasn’t already a thing.  It’s so simple.  I started with this picture as my inspiration.

Then I found a coconut bra at Party City for just $3.99.  (Can’t beat that for a gag gift!)

Then I used some light brown acrylic paint to create the background for the Kakamora faces and red, black, and white acrylic paint for the facial features and war paint.

I would have stopped there…and you totally could too.  But if you’re hard core like my friend Kathy, you’ll want to embellish with a few more things. (We used a purple toe separator for the arms, a squishy stretch toy like the one in the link for the “spiky” hat, and a q-tip with little pieces of tissue paper glued on for the weapons.)  Like I said, my friend is a meticulous genius.

Our final product was pretty perfect!!

And if you’re wondering what to USE your coconut bra for, here’s a few simple suggestions:

1: Moana themed bachelorette party?

2: To assert your strong feminist self.  (I am woman, hear me roar…or attack you on a pirate ship, or whatever.)

3: To send a gentle but firm message to your significant other about what your plans for the evening will not include.

4: If you’re an introvert at a luau and small talk is not your game.

5: If you really don’t want to deal with that door-to-door salesman.

(OK, maybe that’s a stretch.  I’m out of ideas for now but I’m sure you can come up with your own and share your thoughts with the rest of us!  Thanks for stopping in.  🙂

 

Dear Husband, I Can Explain…

Husband of mine, when you get home you may have a few minor questions for me.  You know, mostly revolving around when and why the sanity left our home.

While I’m not able to fully answer that without a lawyer present, I can at least explain a few of your areas of concern.

For starters…the smell.  If you’re picking up on some briny floral with a vague hint of greasy garage you’re right on track.

You know how I went to our son’s classroom and saw how his teacher used those great essential oils?  I thought I’d try to recreate that calm atmosphere at home by using some soothing lavender in our diffuser.  You know, to keep everyone from losing their sanity.

Except lavender is a liar and doesn’t actually have the solutions to all my problems.

See…shortly after the kids got home from school I followed our sneaky three year old down the stairs and discovered an oily liquid all over the place.  After a brief interrogation, our little man procured a bottle of WD-40 which I can’t imagine how he found. (Side bar- I’m thinking we may need to reevaluate our basement shelving now that we have curious ninja boys.)

So it turns out the calming lavender wasn’t really a match for oil-aggeddon and the irritability and minor panic that followed.  There was a lot of hand washing and label reading and, fair warning, I wouldn’t look in the trash can if I were you.  Although- bright spot- your exercise machine glides like a charm now.  I wish I could tell you which boy to thank for that.

BUT, when I punished our son for lying about his involvement in the oil escapade, I may have caused a teeeeensy emotional landslide.  Which leads me to the situation with the van.  (Don’t look now.) Apparently losing TV and computer privileges for today warranted him packing up the house and plotting a trip to visit Nana and Papa in Alabama. 

I hugged him goodbye and took pictures of the kids because it was sort of funny for awhile.  Except the six year old was dead serious and had a rather robust packing list. 

And eventually I had to wrestle him out of the van and tell him why it wasn’t plausible for him to actually drive hundreds of miles today and return home for school Monday.

Which brings me to that last smell…while I was trying to get God knows what out of the fridge to scrounge them up a dinner to lure them home before they started hitch-hiking down to Dixie, I had some small kerfuffle.  Don’t ask me how I did it, but the short story is that the fridge shelf slid and I lost control of a pickle jar with a poorly secured lid.  (Don’t say a word- we both know I’m the too-lose-lid culprit but we’ll not discuss it again.) 

As with the oil, the lavender was fairly intimidated by the pickle stench.  I may need to give it some self confidence lessons.

So to recap: don’t go in the basement, if you see green on the floor it’s pickle juice not pee, I’m looking into some stronger lavender essential oils…and we might need to plan an actual trip to Alabama to talk the kids off the ledge.

Also, can I go out in the morning?  Possibly?  I could even take just one child…preferably a compliant one who’s in a good mood and hasn’t touched anything with pickles lately.

Thanks and I love you.

~Your pickle splattered Wife

 

 

 

Immature Mom Moment?

My counselor asked me once why I always feel behind.  Oh gracious, I could write a book about that.

But it all starts with intending to wake up before my children, and snoozing in just a few extra peaceful minutes only to find one of them waking me up instead.  (A kid at 6am is harder to ignore than an alarm at 5:45 apparently.)

This morning my usual three year old culprit greeted me and I had to shush him and whisk him down the stairs before he woke up the other two angelic sleeping children. (And “angelic” is a word we seldom use in this house.)

Then I sat down to have my “quiet time” where I read a chapter of a book or some chapters in my Bible or pray (or for the love of all things sugar-free be ALONE).  But I find myself feeling guilty that while I’m trying to have a calm conversation with God I have to keep yelling at a mischievous child.  I think God gets it but its awkward.

Finally my little guy wore me down, as usual, and I invited him to join my “quiet time” if he could, in fact, be quiet.  Bless his heart.  He lowered his voice to a toddler whisper, but the kid never stopped talking. Asking me questions.  Wanting me to see what he was working on.

Death glare.  “Child…you will learn what quiet means if it is the only legacy I pass on to you.”

Finally my older daughter came in and I gave up my not-so-quiet endeavor to look something up on the computer for her.  Next thing I knew, I looked over and my preschooler was wielding his scissors and must have been bored with paper because he was now intent on trying to cut my new blue shirt.

I mom panicked into over-reacting umm….just a smidge we’ll say.  My poor son was surprised and hurt by how quickly I over-scolded him. 

I shooed my daughter out of the room and told her to get dressed, I plucked my crying three year old up and put him in time-out with yet another firm reminder that “we ONLY cut paper” (which his little brain will file away in the same place he puts my rules about not coloring on the wall).

Then in anger I called out passive aggressively to no one in particular (but specifically my husband) something about having to handle all the things myself just because I’m “mom”.  (Translation: obviously we are in crisis mode and if my tirade and a crying child didn’t get you down here…I’m going to lay out an additional suuuuper subtle hint for you.)

Then I sat down for a brief moment, probably to stew in irritability even though my shirt didn’t actually get cut after all.  And suddenly it occurred to me…my husband had kissed me goodbye a good 15 minutes ago and left for work already.  He clearly had no idea of the shirt and scissors kerfuffle and thankfully he also missed my immature mom moment of taking my frustration out on him.

I’m actually relieved because the minute I realized he wasn’t there I saw my Mom meltdown for what it was- that kind of embarrassing time when my kids witnessed me yelling at literally no one because of a blue shirt.  I had made a mistake but since he wasn’t there I got to take it back and start over.  (How often does that happen?)

Whew.  With any luck he won’t even read this blog and he’ll be none the wiser. 😉

Now my big kids are at school and my son has been sneaking his own lunch while I type.  But I think its worth it to take a minute to cheer you up with my immaturity.


 

What about you?  Any embarrassing or slightly over-reacting moments from your parenting career?  Feel free to share- sometimes being able to laugh at ourselves brings us a little perspective on our frustrations for today.

What Twinkies Taught Me About Human Dignity

“Fat people gotta eat!” she said as she poked around an end of aisle snack food display at the grocery store.  She’d been talking half to herself, half to my three year old son who has the innocence and charm to engage many a stranger.

I was on a pointless search for an almond butter that didn’t cost a million dollars, but I smiled as she emphasized her statement by grabbing at her perfectly thin stomach.  I assured her that she was more than fine in the weight department but not to be deterred, she good naturedly revealed her undershirt to reiterate her point.

She never stopped moving and I wondered if she really cared what anyone thought of her, stomach or otherwise, the way she confidently rattled on, side-stepping social expectations in a delightful child-like way.  But as she poked her head around me to say hi to my son, she unexpectedly threw off my own sense of social balance:  As though she literally couldn’t help herself, she invited my sugar-loving preschooler over to a veritable heaven of Hostess products and said, “Want a treat?  You can only pick two.  Which ones do you want?”

My son hid behind me at first as though even he was unsure of what to do in this situation.  But confection wins out every time and before I really knew what had happened, he was throwing a box each of Twinkies and Ding Dongs into my cart.

Our new friend grinned and waved me along, “Just follow me and I’ll buy ’em when I check out.”

What had I gotten myself into?  I didn’t have a strong social map for this situation (do they make books for this kind of thing?), and all my brain synapses were firing on awkward.  How did this shopping trip turn into me playing follow-the-leader with a stranger who wanted to buy my kid infamously bad-for-you treats?

Still, though I may never know her whole story, I sensed that this woman might be someone who frequently found herself on the receiving end of help.  How often did she feel really seen?  How often did she feel the simple dignity of giving an impromptu gift to someone who couldn’t help their self?

So what that my three year old would have more Polysorbate 60 (apparently a Twinkie ingredient) than he knew what to do with.  So what that we didn’t need them and I could have bought them myself.

We continued our unlikely procession, she occasionally turning behind to encourage my lagging son to keep going.  At one point we split down different aisles but she told me she’d catch me up front.  My son, far more aware of the situation than I’d given him credit for, said in his earnest way, “Need her!  Red shirt!”  He could identify down to the shirt color the woman who was funding his treats and he feared we’d lost her.

But as we rounded another aisle she shuffled past and kept waving us along as though we’d never left her sights.  True to her word, she presented my son with his prize bag of goodies as she rung up her own things in the self check-out.  I scanned my items too and thanked her, enjoying her ongoing irritated conversation with the finicky self-check out system.  Before we left she told us where she lived and that we should stop by sometime and head to the lake.  Her generous sincerity somehow rubbed like sandpaper against my own inhibitions and slowness to welcome people with such open-handed hospitality.

As we walked out the door she called loudly to my son again, “Love ya babe!”  Maybe we’d call it taboo.  Maybe we’d say it was a lack of social awareness. But from the time we encountered her, the woman was simply reacting in the present with a warmth and realness that most of us would be too embarrassed to show.  (And maybe that’s more a tragedy than we realize.)

Though she didn’t hear him, my son, now tagging at my heels, met her free child-like emotion with his own: “I lud you too.”

And though admittedly I had to fight that place in my head that worried about my son freely throwing out “I love yous” to strangers, I started tearing up a bit at the exchange I’d just witnessed.  My son didn’t see the strange, the uncomfortable, or the awkward.  He didn’t care her gender, clothing choice, education level or race.  Yes he was mostly fixated on the Twinkies, but I also believe he saw her as an equal.  And isn’t that what I say I believe too?  That we’re all equals?

It made me stop to ask myself how I think about each person I see.  Do I really believe each person has equal dignity?  Do I honestly believe that each person I encounter has a dignity that goes beyond what they’ve ACCOMPLISHED, what they can GIVE, or how they PRESENT themselves? Am I so busy trying to secure my own dignity and worth through helping others that I stop seeing each person as intrinsically valuable?

Do I forget that our human need for each other doesn’t depend on our culture’s definition of who qualifies as “needy” but on the fundamental premise that each of us has some incalculable imprint of our Creator to share with the world?

Silly though my story may be, I didn’t give that woman dignity by letting her buy my son Twinkies.  Her dignity was her own beautiful birthright, Creator bestowed, not to be increased or diminished by a fellow creation.  But in letting her buy my son something seemingly insignificant, I believe I acknowledged in my heart the dignity that was always hers.  In watching her interact with my son I witnessed a piece of her that filled my own soul with more joy than a Twinkie has crème.

As I shared this story with my dad I lamented that my first reaction towards people is to see their social status, their worth according to culture, not their intrinsic dignity.  How can I change that first reaction?

And he wisely suggested that perhaps we can’t control that first reaction, but that God is more concerned with our “second look” at people.  Maybe we can’t help that first feeling of superiority (or inferiority even), that knee-jerk scan of who a person is and how valuable they are based on our first glance.  But we give that reaction to God and let Him shape our second look so that we are able to lay down our man-made view of dignity and see people through the filter of His free love.

So may we pray to acknowledge and embrace the full dignity of others on the streets, in our homes, and occasionally even in the Twinkie aisle.


Have a story to share about your own encounter with the dignity in others?  No story is small or insignificant…I hope you’ll share your moment and revelations with the rest of us.  Or start a conversation on my facebook page at www.facebook.com/lesstobemore. Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

Help! Is My Kid Broken or Am I?

Angry little voices broke the veil between reality and whatever vague dream my sleepy mind wandered in.  I yelled one of those pointless things we say as parents when we our plans don’t include dealing with petty and ridiculous now or ever.  “Everyone just work it out!”

I scanned the closest electronic device for the time: 6:30am.  For real, children?  As the arguing escalated, I went into the hall to find all three children awake with books creatively stacked across my daughter’s floor.  My brows went up, which is quite a feat for that hour: “How long have you guys been up?”

My answer-ready daughter filled me in: Her 6 year old brother had come into her room at some point in the night to “sleep”, which apparently translates more closely to “stay up and play”.  Alarmed by the prospect of handling severely sleep deprived children, I pressed further.  “Exactly how long have you been playing?”  She mused that it might have been starting to get light out when he came in.

(Can anyone say espresso please?)

Thus began one of those mornings when I knew exactly which kid would meltdown.  Sure enough, despite a relatively normal morning routine, my middle son was a puddle before 8am.  And by the time the bus rolled through, he decided he’d rather hide than ride.  My eight year old willingly stepped onto the bus but my son?  He threw off his backpack, kicked off his shoes, and retreated under a blanket on the living room couch.  So I mustered my politest smile (the last one of the hour) and sent the driver down the road with just one kid, my mind whirling about how to get my son out the door (for the love) for what was likely a regular day for most kids.

After delivering an ultimatum that should earn me an honorary lawyer’s degree, I convinced him to go to school and we dropped him off miraculously by 9am.  But even though it wasn’t easy, with him it could easily have been a lot worse.

So here’s my thing: am I intentionally raising one of my kids to throw tantrums and hit me when he’s mad?  Have I spent hours teaching one kid to obey authority while letting the others run amok with no direction?  Mm…gonna have to say no.

I have three kids- one who willingly complies and responds well to discipline, one that schmoozed two boxes of Twinkies from a stranger at the store today (not really the point, but still…), and one who is chronically difficult for me to direct.  Discipline and positive motivators alike…they’ve all failed at one point or another.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s an amazing kid: he’s sensitive, thinks of others, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to build rockets or bridges when he grows up.  But he also has bursts of anger that his almost 7 year old self should have kicked to the curb at age 4.  He gets very stuck in a thought pattern and has a hard time unlocking.  Sometimes he’s trying to be difficult, other times you can tell he feels like he’s the victim and he’s lashing out in his own misdirected attempt to right the wrongs he feels.  (And trust me, his episodes aren’t pretty.)

Often I feel like I’m doing something terribly wrong with him.  If I’d just been more consistent…if I’d just set clearer boundaries when he was a three month old.  If only I were more structured and less irritable.  And all of that has left me with guilt that is about as helpful as a hole in my window screen.

We could all be better parents (understatement of the century) but I’m realizing that’s not the only issue.

When it comes to our kids, there are some areas that we expect differences in.  We assume not all children will be equally athletic or artistic.  We understand that some will be amazing dancers and others will trip over their feet fifty times a day.  Some can belt and carry a tune at age three and some, well…bless their heart.

While we wouldn’t look down on all children for lacking the coordination to dribble a ball down the court, we sometimes set more uniform standards for what kids should be doing behaviorally.  We think ALL kids should be able to sit, focus, respond well to discipline.  ALL kids should be able to access words to tell us what’s wrong and deal with it rather than take it out in unhealthy ways.  And because we think ALL kids should be able to comply with our standard behavioral expectations, we either think something is wrong with the kid or with the parents and their discipline.

We say things like, “If that were MY kid…” or “If they just told him no more often…”  We label kids in negative ways.  We act like there’s an obvious, uniform answer for all our kids.  But what if there’s not?

Honestly, in the past I’ve been more judgmental about other people’s parenting or their kids. I probably still am occasionally.  But I’m beginning to realize what I wish I’d known long ago- just like all kids aren’t artistic or athletic equals- not all kids are behavioral equals either.

It’s not that we shouldn’t have healthy limits and goals for our children whatever their DNA and personality.  It’s just that we can’t plug in some easy formula for each of them and expect to get the same neat and tidy results.

Some kids wrestle with anxiety through no fault of their own or their parents.  Some kids throw hour long tantrums over something that other kids would get over in two minutes.  Some kids are naturally compliant and some aren’t.  Some, like mine, have anger bursts that surprise and undo me despite repeated attempts to curb and improve his behavior.

My point is simply this: each kid is so wildly different, and parenting is an all-out exhausting endeavor where you can’t use the same owner’s manual for more than one kid.  In my experience, the owner’s manual is pretty incomplete to begin with.

Certainly we as parents play a huge part in raising up responsible, well-adjusted kids.  But I also know this: each one of my kids processes and responds to direction, discipline, and motivators in irritatingly unique ways.

From missing buses to outbursts on one hand, to high-flung drama and irrational tears for another; from the sheer crazy of a three year old who crashes into everything, to an eight year old that I sometimes have to tell to please put down her book while her friend is over.

They’re all so very different.  And we as parents are too.  Parenting is part figuring out who my kids are and part figuring out who I am and uncovering how to meet constructively in the middle.  With discipline.  With goals.  And hopefully always with love.

I’m a mess.  My kids are a mess.  We’re not perfect and both my parenting and their behavior could be a lot better a lot of the time.  But we’re a work in progress and I imagine you are too.

If you have felt judged or incompetent as a parent because your kid didn’t seem to fit neatly into the behavior or discipline “norm”, please share your story!  How have you learned to let go of people’s expectations?  How have you learned to help your child or yourself overcome some difficulties (like anger, anxiety, OCD, etc) that other kids don’t deal with as frequently?

Let’s encourage each other with our stories.

 

I Don’t Know (Gray Faith Study Ch 8: Gray Answers)

“I don’t know” has become one of the most refreshing phrases to hear others say, and yet it doesn’t roll off my own tongue easily.  In fact, sometimes I have to chase it down and drag it out of my mouth kicking and screaming.

I know I don’t have all the answers but I so desperately want to fix everything- to make it better.  I NEED for there to be an answer…or I think that’s what I need.  What they need.  What you need.

At core admitting that “I don’t know” is a massive letting go of control.   Letting go of my perceived control over making someone happy, my perceived ability to make someone better, our perceived control over situations that are broken.

But trusting in God takes the “I don’t know” to another level of humility because I have to concede that He DOES KNOW.  It’s this letting go of my belief that I’m capable of even beginning to fathom the vast knowledge that spans souls and soil, breath and bread, Spirit and truth. And that’s scary.

But what’s perhaps even scarier is that God knows the answers and yet problems still exist.  The suffering still continues.  My friends’ pain isn’t getting wrapped up neatly.  My own struggles aren’t dissolving.  If God knows the answer and the problem persists then maybe we’re tempted to throw God out entirely and say we can’t believe in a God who knows and hasn’t fixed.

Or.  OR.  We chase the why.  We become absolutely convinced that even if we don’t know how to SOLVE a problem we can make it better with a “why” bandaid.  Why does someone’s pain exist? Is God teaching them something?  Did we make a mistake?  Is something amazing going to happen through the suffering?  Why?

“I don’t know” is a giant inky pool that no one wants to swim in.  We think answers are the life-raft to save us- but they’re not.  They might actually be trapping us, handicapping us, holding us hostage.

But…God is there in the inky pool holding us somehow in the not knowing.  He is a Life-raft that somehow envelops us more securely than the styrofoam answers we’re clinging to.

Photo Credit: Joy Martin

And He, Holder of the answers, Creator of the world, Sustainer of our cells and souls, perhaps wants us to trust in Him even more than in answers.

And just as He sits with us in our unanswered mess, walks with us and speaks identity over us, we can sit with others and extend to them the grace of not knowing.  We can point them to the Answer that doesn’t always resolve our problems here-and-now, neat and clean- that Spirit that surpasses all the other answers that we think we need.

Maybe that sounds like another easy answer.  But I’ve had to fight and flounder to believe it, and even now it isn’t easy.  I can honestly say now that finding God’s presence in my life has been the single thing that keeps me afloat because I’ve felt Him when nothing else made sense.

But that’s where my story is.

I know for some just getting to that place of believing in God feels like too big a step, too much faith in what you can’t see.   I don’t want to diminish that struggle or try to fix you with some platitude.

So I’ll leave you to ponder, to wonder, to seek.  But I hope that when the search for answers wearies you and you can’t even find the whys, that you might venture trusting in surprisingly steady arms in that dark sea you find yourself in.

And for those who feel like they have to have all the answers, or that God isn’t pleased if they can’t find a verse to combat any problem…may you somehow find peace and rest in the not knowing.

Here’s the FINAL Gray Faith video/Study Guide!!  (Chapter 8)


Experiment #8-
Whatever you believe has been shaped by many things. I challenge you to take away the books, the friend’s opinions that fill your head, even the things you were taught to believe as a child. When you strip away all these things, what is the bottom line of your belief- the fundamental reason you believe as you do. Sometimes this means mentally suspending what you believe momentarily to ask yourself if another way makes sense. For example, can you imagine that God doesn’t exist? Would your life be substantially changed if He didn’t? What, if any, personal experiences have you had with God that shape your belief? Even if you don’t feel like you have all the answers, imagine what living out your deepest beliefs may look like in your practical life.

Chapter 8 Study Questions:

1.What does it mean to be “comfortable being uncomfortable” when we don’t have the answers? Why is this necessary?

2. Formulas can be tools to help us grow, but how can they become negative?

3. Imagine/discuss what you believe Eden was like: a perfect relationship with God, a world before the curse. How do you see brokenness of the fall in everything humans have touched?

4. Respond to this statement: “The beauty of the world and the suffering alike tell me that we were meant for more.”

5. Have you experienced Jesus to be bigger than your circumstances? Explain.

6. Be honest with yourself/ your group, and God- what are some the “unanswered” questions in your life?

7. How can you live with questions and still actively believe in God?

Bible passages for further reading:
Romans 1:18-20 (God reveals Himself through creation); Mark 9:14-29 (Jesus heals a boy/father asks for help with unbelief); Matthew 11:1-6 (John the Baptist questions Jesus’ identity);

 

 

Moving On, Community and Letting Go (Friend Post Friday #6)

I still remember the first day I met Maura Eckels, my guest blogger for today.  We were at a mutual friend’s graduation party and her sweet love of children found her gravitating towards the playground where I was swinging my kiddos.  From the first conversation, I could tell Maura oozed passion to taste and change the world- and not just in a passing fad kind of way- the girl was ready to make a real difference.  I was amazed that someone so young was already aware of such a deep calling on her life.  It’s no surprise then that her faith and heart have since taken her to Franciscan University where she’s enrolled in theology and human life studies, with plans to graduate and carry God’s heart wherever He takes her.  If you ever have the pleasure of talking with Maura, you’ll find yourself caught up in her smile and eager dialogue, while simultaneously feeling challenged to fully live your beliefs and convictions the way she does.  Her journey hasn’t been easy, and in fact her life circumstances have made tuition alone very difficult for her.  I’m sharing with you her tuition go-fund-me page in the hopes that you will read more of her story and please help out financially if you are able!  And I hope you’ll stick around to be inspired as she shares her honest beautiful thoughts.

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

“Moving On, Community and Letting Go”

by Maura Eckels

There’s this closing scene in a film called Brooklyn that deeply moves me. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the movie, but it’s about this young woman from Ireland who takes the boat to New York City and meets this Italian fella. The movie ends with her standing on a street in a city which became her home. She sees her husband after a long period of time (she married the Italian guy), he sees her and then she says this incredible line:

“One day the sun will come out-you might not even notice straight away, it’ll be that faint. And then you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past and you’ll realize… that this is where your life is.”

As I moved away from Connecticut and into a new home in my college town, I found myself on soccer mom duty for the children of a former professor. Three munchkins, one minivan and an afternoon practice seemed to be the perfect medicine for my soul after a restless day driving to Ohio.

It was here that I was overcome with this same realization. These friends and families around me have become my community. This poverty stricken town has become my home. And for right now, this is where my life is.

Just days before I was cleaning out the childhood bedroom of the home I’ve known for 21 years. I noticed that the mess I was either throwing away or organizing into storage bins paled in comparison to the mess of my heart. On the one hand, I could taste the sweet freedom of moving out for good and on the other, the daunting reality of now facing life with the baggage I’ve accumulated over the years, like dust on a shelf.

As I took one last look at the empty room holding nothing but my battered heart, a truth washed over me that perhaps you can sympathize with: We don’t realize how much crap we have until we sift through it and we can’t see how broken we are until we try to clean shop.

Somehow, I’ve painfully managed to grasp on rather than let go of that which weighs me down. This still small voice would keep asking to lighten the load and to share in my burden, but I couldn’t figure out how to concretely give it over to Jesus. And the truth is, I still can’t. So I resolved to carry it alone. Worse, I accepted that maybe I am alone. After all, how could He possibly be helping if he claims his yoke to be light and mine is so heavy?

Then a beautiful woman reminded me that God will allow you to struggle because He wants you to show up for your own fight. And I remembered all the times I made it through the valley with the help of His grace and once again I am reassured that just as I was victorious before, I will be victorious again.

His grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness.

So I want Jesus to be my number one. I want him to be enough for me. He is the bridegroom and I am his bride. His love for me is covenant; it’s eternal. My maker wants to marry me. He gives himself totally and completely on the cross, holding nothing back. His body given up for me. Love without condition. And in response to Christ’s disinterested gift of self, I desire to be one right back. I want to love him for his own sake and goodness and not for what he does for me. And I can’t claim to fully love someone whom I fear because perfect love casts out all fear. Therefore, I will continue to ask for the grace to not put God in my own image because it’s a false one. Rather, I hope to see him for who he truly is.

The problem is this: Jesus is not as tangible as I would like him to be. I can’t see his facial expressions, hear the inflection in his voice or know what his laugh sounds like. Does he have a preference in wine? I mean he created the vines, but you never know. It’s the details which seem lacking. He feels less real to me than the people around me even though that’s the furthest from the truth. He’s more real…I know that. Yet my heart won’t consent. I hate admitting that he doesn’t feel enough for me because he is supposed to be. To love God for his own sake means to really know him. But I realized that I don’t know him well because if I did, I wouldn’t fear him.

Yet, I have to believe that the same God who created us for himself in whom we alone find satisfaction and fulfillment is also the same God who said to Adam in the Garden that it is not good for man to be alone. We need others just as much as we need God. I mean Heaven itself isn’t just us alone chillin’ with the Trinity. It’s us, Him and the angels and saints. Even our forever is community. Community is what we’re created for.

I know that soon enough I will have to say goodbye to this community that the Lord has blessed me with these past three years. He’s given me so much more than I could have ever anticipated for myself and for this, I am eternally grateful. As I’ve been learning to detach from objects, people and places, I’ve come to the conclusion that as Elizabeth Bishop says, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” Letting go is okay, necessary and good. I don’t think any of us will ever be perfectly content with it, but I can only pray for a holy indifference so that when God asks me to leave, I’ll leave and when he asks me to stay, I’ll stay.

Just as God has given before, he will give again. I’m reminded of this even now surrounded by what feels like an abundance of blessings. Even when we are left with what may seem like nothing and no one, we can have confidence and peace knowing that one day he will fill our cup again. When our brokenness surfaces, we can trust that he will heal us in his timing. We can choose to believe the promise Jesus gives us that everything else will be given to us when we seek first the kingdom of God. So I’m choosing right now to seek him first. I want him to be my priority amidst the struggle of this life. In this pursuit of the one who brought me into being, I can find consolation knowing that he will take care of the rest.